Time for House leaders to shore up, not dismantle, their ethics enforcement

Is Congress planning to lay off cops in advance of a crime wave?

It sure looks that way.

The newspaper Roll Call reports this morning that House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi are dragging their feet in filling vacancies in the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics watchdog.

By January, when a new Congress convenes, there will be at least four openings at the OCE, which has made major strides in upgrading ethics enforcement in the House since then-Speaker Pelosi created it – at the behest of Common Cause and other good government groups – in 2007.

The OCE has brought the House’s ethics enforcement into the open. Composed of an equal number of Democratic and Republican appointees, it reviews public inquiries and complaints about members of the House and refers those it considers serious to the House Ethics Committee. Its reports in those cases are made public, a feature of the process that has rankled lawmakers in both parties but is widely credited with pushing them to pay closer attention to ethical questions.

Keeping the office strong is critically important now, as Common Cause noted in a press release today, because the flood of money coming into the 2012 election will create a Congress more beholden than ever to bankers, developers, insurance and energy companies, the health care industry, defense contractors and all manner of other special interests.

Come January, all those folks are going to want something in return for the money they’re spending on politics this fall. Congress will need a strong OCE, not one riddled with vacancies, to blow the whistle on members who cross ethical lines to take care of their donors.

 

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